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Upstream Color

Upstream Colour 2013 | 96 min | Not rated | 2.39:1

Upstream Color


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

User reviews

1 user review

Movie appeal

Psychological thriller36%


Theatrical release date

 05 April, 2013
 30 August, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Upstream Color


Screenshots from Upstream Color Blu-ray

Upstream Color Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 2, 2013

In 2004, writer/director/actor/producer/composer/editor Shane Carruth brought “Primer” into view. A no-budget but highly sophisticated picture that exhaustively explored the elasticity of the time travel subgenre, “Primer” was appreciated by a cult following that adored Carruth’s attention to detail and steely moviemaking approach. Nearly a decade later, the filmmaker returns to screens with “Upstream Color,” out to top his earlier work in the realm of abstract details and indie cinema polish. A brain-bleeder with no particular need for an audience, “Upstream Color” marks a bold creative step forward for the helmer, now blessed with more forgiving funding to explore his nervy yet calculated eccentricities.

Thief (Thiago Martins) has uncovered access to total mind control when he stumbles across a special worm containing exploitable biological elements. Targeting Kris (Amy Seimetz), Thief assumes command of the young woman after flushing a worm into her system, toying with her mind and depleting her bank account. After a mental and physical breakdown that requires a remedy involving a pig, Kris eventually meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), a persistent man who’s immediately attracted to the shattered woman, soon coming to understand they’ve both endured the same bloodstream invasion. Also floating around this universe is The Sampler (Andrew Senseing), an enigmatic figure who explores the harmonious sounds of nature, while tending to his special pig farm located in the middle of nowhere.

The flawed synopsis above is merely a stab at explaining the alien world Carruth has fashioned here. While the plot, for lack of a better term, is fairly straightforward in its assignment of conflict and villainy, “Upstream Color” remains a knotted assortment of symbolism, editorial gymnastics, and biological mystery that keeps the viewer in scratch-head mode for the 90 minute run time, laboring not only to solve the ambiguity at hand, but to keep up with Carruth’s ballooning imagination as well. As admirers of “Primer” will warn you, this filmmaker is a fiercely intelligent, original thinker, and his movies aren’t simply out there to be decoded, they are meant to be grafted onto skin.

There’s much to absorb during the feature, perhaps too much for anyone unprepared for Carruth’s cinematic interests. While “Upstream Color” is vaguely linear in design, it’s executed in a seemingly non sequitur manner, with gaps in time creating disorientation with character and dramatics, creating unfortunate distance to the emotional core of the picture, finding frigidity once again paralyzing Carruth’s determined work. He’s an ace with invention, but Carruth has yet to manufacture a movie with body heat, placing the mechanics of abstraction as his top priority, while a stunted tale of ache is rendered insignificant in competition with swine symbiosis and voodoo worms ingested through sips of soda and pill form. The coldness of “Upstream Color” is distracting, often so wrapped up in its esoteric carnival of hidden meaning that the concerns of these shadowy people come off secondary to the helmer, who’s far more interested in the thread count of disease, calling on the book “Walden” by Henry David Throeau as proof of outside manipulation, while water and paper link projects also signify the acid burn of the worm and Thief’s cruel mental trespass. The whole Magic Kingdom of madness is undeniably interesting, yet long sections of “Upstream Color” feel more like AP homework than deliciously intellectual silver screen code-breaking.

Technical credits are marvelous, with special attention paid to David Lowery and Carruth’s precise editing, which stitches together a stunning sense of unity between characters and creatures, helping to build a few narrative bridges visually the screenplay doesn’t inspect in full. While “Primer” was clunky and amateurish despite its astoundingly labyrinthine subject matter, “Upstream Color” has polish and accessible directorial architecture, displaying Carruth’s growth as a filmmaker after nearly a decade between projects.

Touching on free will, sonic communication, and the intertwining of memories as Kris and Jeff experience the thin ice of their reality, “Upstream Color” is thematically and dramatically all over the place -- an absolute pleasure button for viewers who prefer their cinema to be interpretive and unattainable. Those who require a beating pulse to set the tempo for jigsaw puzzle moviegoing are hereby warned, as Carruth isn’t interested in making things easy. He wants to squeeze your mind, not hold your hand.

Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth
Director: Shane Carruth

» See full cast & crew

Upstream Color, Forum Discussions

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Shane Carruths Upstream Color 5 Jan 17, 2013

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